A federal appeals court decision striking down a tax-funded fundamentalist Christian program in an Iowa prison last month was a deeply satisfying victory for Americans United.
The unanimous court--which included former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor sitting by special designation--ruled that government support for the InnerChange Freedom Initiative at Newton Correctional Facility advances religious indoctrination at state expense.
Americans United brought the litigation against InnerChange, a program operated by Charles W. Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministries, on behalf of inmates, their families and taxpayers. We did it for a number of reasons.
One factor was simple justice. Inmates taking part in the InnerChange program were receiving preferential treatment, including more secure conditions, private cells, more contact with family members and the most coveted benefit of all to someone behind bars: a faster track to parole. Inmates unwilling to submerge themselves in fundamentalist Christianity were denied these perks. That's simply not right.
AU had also heard complaints, which were later documented in the court record, of how the program's staff members scorned inmates of non-fundamentalist faiths. Those prisoners were referred to as "unsaved," "lost," "pagan" and "sinful" by Inner Change staff.
The program also required staffers to abide by a fundamentalist statement of faith. Thus, taxpayers were expected to fund a program that would not even consider many of them for employment.
But the main reason we took on the case is this: It is a bedrock principle in American life that religion should pay its own way. No citizen should ever be taxed to pay for the religious indoctrination of another.
This principle should be obvious. There was a time when it was. The American people, through the First Amendment, rejected taxation for religion and any form of compelled support for worship. A faith that relies on government handouts, our people declared, is not free.
Somewhere along the way, we began to lose sight of this important concept. Some religious leaders started arguing that there would be no harm in taking a few dollars for this project or that. Some politicians, eager to win votes and curry favor, began doling out the money.
Along came tax aid to private religious schools disguised as "vouchers." Along came government grants to religion euphemistically titled a "faith-based" initiative.
Americans United continued to oppose...